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Don't be your own worst enemy when remodeling

Posted November 27

Many homeowners have a Houzz or Pinterest account full of beautiful spaces, but finding qualified local professionals who can help them determine what is realistic for their space and budget is an essential step to success. (Deseret Photo)

So, you have finally had it with your house. It is too small, too disorganized, too dated, too many unused bedrooms, too ______________ (fill in the blank). Our current holiday season may be the final straw as you try to squeeze too many people into a home with not enough room in any of the right spaces.

Moving is one option, but if you love your neighborhood, location, views, etc., your preference may be to stay and fix the problem on site. How you decide to proceed after making the choice to stay is critical to your future happiness and prosperity.

We would venture to say that the most common first step made by homeowners who have decided to remodel their home is to call a contractor. What contractor? Well, your sister-in-law may have a recommendation, or there is always looking on the online classifieds. Once the decision to remodel has been made, the main thing is to get on with it, right?

A contractor shows up, and you wave your arms around and discuss what is bothering you. He assures you that he has plenty of experience and can solve all your problems. What will it cost? A number is thrown out which sounds about right to you. The main thing is he can start next Monday. Let’s get going!

Perhaps you think you would never be so reckless about a remodel, and hopefully you wouldn’t. You may draw up a floor plan by hand or with a simple drafting program to more fully define the scope of the work. You might even share some photos from Houzz.com or from a Pinterest board with the contractor to help him see your vision. The next question you will ask is, “How much will this cost?”

The answer will reveal what kind of a contractor you are dealing with. An experienced, competent contractor will tell you he or she does not have enough information to answer that question and will explain the design phase of the project that needs to be addressed before there is a responsible budget estimate. If the contractor gives you a budget number at this point, it is a red flag warning that trouble is likely ahead.

If homeowners proceed under these conditions, they are quite likely setting themselves up for failure and frustration throughout the project. The contractor who begins construction under these circumstances may shortly begin to inform you of all the things that weren’t included in his “bid.” Besides the things he didn’t know a homeowner wanted to be included, there may be upgrades to the base level allowances he included for the most obvious items such as flooring, windows, appliances, etc.

At the end of such a project, there will likely be one of two outcomes: You will finally get what you want, but at a much higher price than you were expecting or you will get less than you were expecting for the money you have spent.

This is a no-win situation for all involved. Why would contractors submit themselves to such a dismal scenario? Some contractors may feel that they need to low-ball the estimate in order to get the job, and if the homeowner has failed to accurately document his intentions, an accurate budget estimate is impossible in any case. The stress and conflict that ensues for both the contractor and the homeowner is unpleasant, to say the least.

If you are contemplating a major remodeling project, plan on at least a year before it will be completed. Even a more minor project will take far longer than you anticipate if you take the time to design it well and make all your selections prior to commencing construction.

It's said that you can only have two out of the three qualifiers for a remodeling project: Fast, cheap or good. Notice that if you choose "fast" as one of your priorities, you will have to give up either "cheap" or "good."

A terrific contractor is a key member of any successful remodeling team. However, design always comes before construction. Skipping or eliminating this step will have an obvious negative impact on a project just about every time. It is up to the homeowner to understand the proper way to structure the remodeling project for a home.

It is also up to the homeowner to face reality in terms of what the budget can actually accomplish. People can shop around until they find a contractor who will tell them up front what they want to hear, but in the end, they will have to pay for everything they get. Coordinating a design from the beginning with a budget may not get a homeowner everything the family has ever wished for, but it will aid in completing a project with a minimum of stress and a maximum impact to improve life every day.

Be smart and realistic when planning a remodeling project. Build a team with competent professionals who will not put the cart before the horse. Design comes first and budget is an issue that should be included in every discussion along the way to a wonderful outcome.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs. To learn more, visit RenovationDesignGroup.com or contact ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com.

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